City and state officials have an eye on the future as they continue to address the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the south Bronx, which began on July 10.
As of August 10, 12 have died from the disease, while 113 cases had been reported and 76 of those treated and discharged.
The outbreak peaked on July 30, and no new cases have been diagnosed since August 3, according to the NYC Department of Health.
The type of pneumonia from the legionella bacteria is not contagious, and is contracted through the inhalation of contaminated water vapor.
The outbreak resulted from high levels of bacteria in one or more air conditioner ‘cooling towers’ which use recirculated water to regulate temperatures in some large buildings.
An initial five sites in the south Bronx were identified as the likely culprits of the outbreak, but as of August 10 a total of 11 sites have tested positive for legionella within the impact zone, while seven sites have been identified outside it.
Every cooling tower identified in the impact zone has been immediately ordered disinfected and remediated, according to the mayor’s office.
On August 6, Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Basset issued an executive order to owners of buildings with the cooling towers within the city to disinfect the units within two weeks.
Governor Cuomo recently announced the New York State Department of Health is providing free Legionella testing for building owners, operators, managers and landlords of buildings with cooling towers until October, when the hot summer temperatures that may contribute to the growth of Legionella bacteria have ended.
Workers from the state Department of Health are canvassing the area to identify towers and provide information to residents, and the Center for Disease Control has also deployed a team to New York City to assist in the effort to combat the current outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease, according to the governor’s office.
“We need all hands on deck, and getting help from the CDC is a huge step in combating this disease that is hurting the south Bronx,” said Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. “Gov. Cuomo’s offer of free testing for building owners, the legislation that Council Member Vanessa Gibson and I have proposed to ensure that we are proactive against the further spread of the Legionnaires Disease, and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s push for testing buildings throughout the city are all positive steps forward in eliminating this problem while finding solutions to prevent yet another outbreak.”
That proposed legislation to regulate cooling towers was introduced by Mayor de Blasio, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and New York City council members on August 10.
The legislation is the first in the nation to provide for detailed requirements and oversight, including mandatory registration, testing and inspections of cooling towers, and sanctions for failure to comply with new standards.
“We are confident the Legionnaires’ outbreak in the south Bronx has been contained, and are working with our partners in the City Council to protect the entire city in the long-term through stringent new regulations for building owners,” said the mayor about the legislation. “New York is the first major city in the nation to propose new registration, inspection, and enforcement standards for the cooling towers which harbor Legionnaires’ bacteria. This action reflects our chief priority: to safeguard the health of New Yorkers.”
According the DOH, groups at high risk for Legionnaires’ disease include people who are middle-aged or older—especially cigarette smokers—people with chronic lung disease or weakened immune systems and people who take medicines that weaken their immune systems.
Those that have died from the disease, which is treatable with antibiotics and has a 5 to 10 percent fatality rate, had underlying health issues.
Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, and neighborhood residents should seek treatment if they observe them.
The DOH has stressed that New York City’s drinking water supply and other water features, like fountains, shower heads and pools, are safe throughout New York City and are unaffected by legionella.